The Spider and the Newcomers, Part XV

“You may have found a more primitive buoy,” the swooping grey shape suggested, “before my time as spokesman for the twelve, several administrations oversaw launches and missions to explore above-surface-atmosphere space, with varying degrees of success.”

“This was a different type of machine altogether, sent from a dry-land installation,” Gartuda said. “We are aware that you have several dry-land launching platforms and development sites, but they are all quite new. This satellite was, we believe, somewhat older than your current testing grounds. Moreover, it was not picked up by us, but by a rather notorious criminal according to our cultural definitions. We believe he is in communication with the originators of this probe, but we have been unable to locate them. Nor, without your permission, would we even try.”

Unusually for a piscine, the twelve-seas spokesman had gone completely still in the water. It gave Gartuda Felhbron a jolt of uneasiness to see the great dark shape just floating there, motionless. He knew the sort of emotions that would bring that sort of creature to a standstill. Very few of the emotions in question were positive ones.

“You are enemies to this criminal.”

“The Corporation has declared him outlaw,” Team Member 7 stressed. “It is not our department as to whether or not his presence is acted upon.”

The Fliei attendants moved their arms and released chemical signals from the Tanturian-designed pads under the join of helmet and neck, attempting to better translate the landbound’s words for their master. The spokesman waved them to silence with one of the small, delicate cartilaginous hands it had folded against its white belly.

“You believe the criminal alien has entered negotiations with Fliei,” he said. “Hidden from your machines, hidden from our noses.”

“We don’t know anything yet,” Gartuda replied. “We are your Corporate representatives, and the other contact event will take place without our supervision. A second team of representatives will be dispatched to this other group, if they request it. We are of the opinion, off the record, that they will not do so. The criminal of whom I speak is most persuasive, and will most likely convince…”

Felhbron realised the Tanturian was no longer listening, and saved his breath. An uneasy, oppressive silence – the sort of silence that you could really only get underwater – fell on the chamber. The Fliei, surprisingly calm considering they had just heard of the possibility of free-roaming members of their own species up on the surface, looked at their master expectantly. So too did the Standard 3 Aquatic Environment Diplomatic Team.

When the spokesman for the twelve seas finally spoke, the dead bluntness of his words could hardly be attributed to the translation equipment.

“They will have to be destroyed.”


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The Spider and the Newcomers, Part XIV

The Tanturian city – although it wasn’t so much a city as an official government complex that doubled as a residential area – was built like a great chambered hive, partly above-ground and partly below, in a combination of construction and coral. It was really quite beautiful. Tanturians themselves didn’t live in ‘houses’, as such, because they were constantly on the move. But for the purposes of civilisation, it was necessary to have businesses, industries, centres of knowledge and all the other trappings, placed somewhere fixed. This was one more reason that aquatic sentients were so rare. It wasn’t the sort of evolutionary niche that lent itself to the gift of reason.

The other two landbound species of the team, Brobenduzul the Barlian Nigriki and Team Member 7, the dramatically neutral Uternlan, weren’t quite so adept at the art of swimming, and the nameless hammer-headed Hraki swooped down to them. They each grabbed a fin, and the Hraki swept upwards effortlessly.

“Master Felhbron,” Team Member 7’s uninflected voice chirruped in Gartuda’s ear through the private team channel, “when are you going to tell them about Spied’jjer Merdokk?”

Felhbron sighed. Member 7 was quite laid-back for a Uternlan – in fact, she was positively capricious – but it was her job to uphold the Corporation regulations and standards, and that was what she was doing. And ‘master Felhbron’ was as close as any Uternlan could get to a friendly nickname. The rest of the team called him Furgun, at least at informal moments, but Member 7 would rather pull out her own tongue. That is, if such a gesture wasn’t so horrifyingly melodramatic.

“Soon,” he promised. “As soon as we get down to actual discussions.”

“Very well,” Team Member 7 cut the communication and released her grip on the Hraki’s fin at the apex of his arc, letting herself shoot gracefully into the chamber the Tanturian and the rest of the aquatics had already entered. Gartuda curled his hands over the lip of the entrance and vaulted himself inside at the same time.

They had brought along a collection of articles as signs of good faith – spacecraft design schematics, maps and star-charts, atmospheric cleansing machines and a small Power Plant-run interactive information device. The primitive A.I. couldn’t draw off energy from the network for any other purpose, but it was a combination learning aid and demonstration of the gifts full Corporate membership could offer. The Tanturian and his deadly grey aides were swirling around these with renewed interest.

“You are employed purely to do this,” the Tanturian leader said, “to meet newly-discovered species and introduce them to the larger urverse.”

“That’s right,” Gartuda replied.

“This happens so often, the … Corporation … trains you and your colleagues for this task, and you do nothing else.”

“That is so,” Ktiki-kt replied helpfully. “In the past three months, we have represented the Corporation in seven first-time meetings with worlds newly discovered, peopled with races as-yet unknown to the rest of the urverse.”

“Unexpected,” the Tanturian declared. Dead eyes once again swept over the landbound visitors. “And you received the transmission of our space-buoy.”

“Yes,” Felhbron confirmed, and glanced sidelong at Team Member 7. She met his eyes expressionlessly. “In fact, we must talk about the events that brought us here. Your buoy wasn’t the only thing we found in the space immediately surrounding your world.”


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My Last Week

Because this blog is, after all, all about me.

Last weekend: Well, you know how this went, because I wrote a blog post about it. So, Sunday passed in resting up and suffering a surprisingly mild hangover. Long sleep-in and extended afternoon snooze (for which I owe Mrs. Hatboy yet more debts of thanks) served to completely disrupt my sleeping pattern as well as cure – or at least help me avoid – 99% of my hangover.

Monday: Remains of mild hangover, some aches and pains and continued sleeping / eating rhythm disruption. Because I am an old, old man.

Tuesday, Wednesday: Average autumn cold. Sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing through nose leading to further sleep loss. Wicked flash stomach ache Wednesday afternoon, reason unknown. Felt like I was trying to pass a live reindeer.

Thursday: Fever. Not entirely sure what happened through Thursday, although fever only struck in the afternoon / evening. Messed-up sleep. Distinctly recall having long conversations with Mrs. Hatboy at two or three in the morning, don’t recall what about. Mrs. Hatboy still somehow didn’t clobber me with her bedside lamp.

Friday: Fever passed, but entire body shattered. Brain decided to take initiative and boil over in a stress-attack about every little niggling thing that could possibly upset me or make me tense, from work situation to family life to the world in general. Brain did this at about eleven at night Friday, and kept doing it through to about five in the morning. Day commenced at about half-past six.

Saturday, Sunday: Feeling OK aside from lack of sleep. Went on a weekend trip with Mrs. Hatboy, Wump, Toop, Vuta, Bella, Walder and their dogs to BRKN’s and Mrs. BRKN’s summer place for a weekend of fishing, eating, game-playing, drinking, and more eating. It was a lot of fun – worthy of a whole separate blog post, despite my bitching. The kids were a handful but what were we expecting, right? Oh, and Hatboys and Palokii were bunking[1] in the same cabin. Vuta (and Bella, and in between that the dogs, and I think also Walder because it’s probably the only way the poor kid can survive) snores like some sort of indescribable demon from the pit next to Hell. The pit full of slimy burble-monsters that make too much noise and so Hell has to call up and complain on weeknights because Hell’s got work to go to the next day, damn it. Also bunks were in a loft area so the temperature was roughly 38°C, but that was actually quite pleasant.

[1] Please note I write “bunking” instead of “sleeping”. Only some of us demonstrably slept.

Anyway the weekend was excellent, sauna was good and food was amazing and the company was absolutely brilliant until I had to go to bed. It was a really great couple of days. Bloody Mary and assorted other stuff may have been a bit much on top of an all-meat, all-the-time weekender on top of a high fever and sleep-deprived week, but we have to test ourselves, right?

Monday: About five in the morning, my body goes “alright, fuck this, everybody out of the pool.”

“What pool?” assorted body-parts fall into the classic rookie trap of asking.

“BLLAAAGGBLBBLAABLLGGGAAGGAABBBLLBLBLLBB,” says my front-butt, which I have tentatively (I do everything tentatively when I have explosive diarrhoea) translated as “this pool, bitches.”

Fortunately this all manages to happen without waking up Mrs. Hatboy.

Now it’s midday.

Come on, week. Show me what you’ve got.

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The Spider and the Newcomers, Part XIII

“And this way, there are rooms of no interest. You will disregard them.”

Gartuda Felhbron was a seasoned veteran of Corporate receptions, and knew not to expect much from the translation interfaces. Chemical signals lacing the water, combined with a complex body language, simply could not be translated readily into verbal cues. The Tanturians undoubtedly enjoyed a rich tradition of communication, and had well-developed characters, but there was no way to see it unless one could fully understand their means of communication. In the Molran’s case, this would entail growing extra sensory organs, and enhancing most of the others. The most acute sensory apparatus on a Molran’s body, the ears, were practically useless for aquatic communication. Although many species did use sound, they used it in ways, and at frequencies, he just couldn’t utilise.

In these situations, he watched the Corporate aquatics. They couldn’t understand the language either, but they didn’t need chemical-verbal decoders just to know whether the dignitary to whom they were talking was hostile or friendly. To Gartuda’s irrepressible survival instincts, a shark almost invariably looked hostile. He was ashamed to admit it, but it was the eyes. Oh, and the teeth.

The Shallops, Golden Cheem, Hraki and assorted others on the Standard 3 Aquatic Environment Diplomatic Team all seemed quite pleased with how things were progressing. Even the tiny Broltian was almost fully extended from his protective polyp. And the Tanturians had undeniably been pleased to see fellow piscines. Indeed, most of the aquatics weren’t even wearing filters to breathe in the water of Tantur – although they did admit, on private channels, that the atmosphere was unpleasantly thick with pollutants. This was more or less standard for any non-Corporate world, forced to support industrial-grade life without the assistance of the Power Plant.

Felhbron swam between a pair of Fliei attendants. He moved with the ease and manoeuvrability of long experience, his breather-field far sleeker and less awkward than the metal-and-plastic bubble-helmets of the large mammals, but compared to the natives he was little more than a floundering land-crawler. These two were introduced as ‘third sons’, which meant that not only had they been born under the sea, so too had their parents, and their parents’ parents. They were white-pink and hairless, with great muscular arms and wide, scarred feet. They could not live permanently in the water, but had small ‘bubbles’ where they could dry off, sleep, and eat in their spare time. The Molran had learned that the adult Fliei grew long claws on his toes, and spurs on his ankles, when the time came for him to mate. These coincided, naturally enough, with hormonal imbalances and behavioural shifts, all of which the Tanturians controlled as a matter of public safety. A Tanturian had little to fear from even the most formidable Fliei, but they curbed the instinctive aggression with medication, and removed the growth nodes in their feet surgically in early childhood. The Fliei themselves declared that they were happier that way. They lived longer, and had less hostility to come to terms with. Most of the higher-ranking Fliei attendants that the Standard 3 Aquatic Environment Diplomatic Team had met had never actually been to the surface of the ocean, and wouldn’t have been able to survive on land in any case. After just three generations, psychology as well as biology were against them.

Of course, Molran and Fliei alike looked graceless in comparison to the flitting grey-blue shapes of the Tanturians; the wide, winged shadows of the Shallops; the silvery, blunt-ended torpedo that was Cheem. Nothing compared to the grace of an aquatic in its natural environment.

The Tanturian ‘Spokesman for the Twelve Seas’ swept in a tight spiral and his opaque grey-black eyes bored momentarily into the struggling collection of landbound.

“Now we head to the upper chambers,” he said. “Can you manage?”

“We can,” Felhbron replied, and he and the Fliei began paddling swiftly through the blue-green haze towards the row of openings far above.


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The Spider and the Newcomers, Part XII

Eugon lifted the small, streamlined silver-and-blue Merdokk Industries translator A.I. It wasn’t a complex mechanical intellect by any means – it was incapable of independent interaction – but once it had absorbed the information required of it, it could provide almost-simultaneous translations of spoken language. And it could absorb the required information through a large number of media.

“You won’t be required to return any of the gifts I have given you,” Spied’jjer said with a smile. “Not even if you end discourse with me and turn me over to the authorities. They are signs of my esteem, for the first undiscovered species with which I have made contact. And signs of my regret that circumstances have forced this series of events. If the High Council attempts to confiscate them, of course, and I am in their custody, I will be unable to prevent you from losing ‑ ”

“We will not be turning you over to the authorities, pecha-Merdokk,” Eugon said. “We do not in fact care that the powers have declared you outlaw, although it was a concern we were obligated to raise. In case you had not noticed, the powers of this world have made the same declaration about us.”

“I had noticed that,” Spied’jjer Merdokk said, and took a calculated risk. “Pecha-Eugon.”

He was rewarded with a laugh.


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Interlude: Tigger Warning

“Oh no! My childhood! Ruined!”


“For real this time, Hatboy! My entire childhood, or more specifically my early adulthood, ruined!”

“I’m sorry, Creepy, but I’ve already assumed that a series of monumentally screwed-up things happened to you in the course of your childhood, so the idea that some development in pop culture could have retroactively ruined it is … well, it’s a little difficult to accept.”


“Especially when it happens every week.”

“For real! Right in the childhood! And also in the feels! The feels, Hatboy!”

“Alright, what is it this time?”

“Offspring’s song? Self Esteem?”

“Oh boy. Okay Methuselah, what about it?”

“Did you know it was about rape, Hatboy?”

“I can’t say I ever thought about it quite so analytically, but … okay, now that you mention it, I guess the female antagonist did arguably take advantage of a man who had shown himself to be an insufficient judge of character to-”

“No, no, no no no no – the woman was raped, Hatboy! It’s despicable!”

“The woman? Are we talking about the same song? ‘I know I’m being used, that’s okay ‘cos I like the abuse, oh-way-ohh’? That song?”

“The very same!”

“The song about the hopeless guy who can’t dump his girlfriend no matter how much of a hostile, unfaithful emotional vampire she is? That one?”

“Yes, don’t you see? Don’t you see?”

“Well, now I’m actually thinking about it, I guess I would have to come down on the side of that song having no actual victims, just a pair of pretty despicable people who probably deserve each other and are destined for a life of misery unless one or both of them grows up … I’m really not seeing how the protagonist is guilty of anything but being a bit of a doormat.”

“She turns up drunk, Hatboy! And he has sex with her!”

“Now hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute there, Creepy…”

“Clear rape!”


“Also, that cotton thing, I think that was racist too. But let’s fix you one small step at a time. I’m here for you, Hatboy. Support is very important.”

“Thanks for that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure a drunk woman has to be incapable of consent before it becomes rape. I’m no lawyer but I think a bit of alcohol-fuelled horniness or regrettably-impaired judgement is-”

“Not at all, not at all! All it takes is the impaired judgement. She doesn’t have to be unconscious – she just has to be intoxicated enough to do something she wouldn’t do sober.”

“So is every person who has ever been on the wrong side of a pair of beer goggles also a victim of rape, or is it just women?”

“Don’t try to victim-blame. It’s grotesque.”

“Look, I think it’s safe to say she would do it sober, since this wasn’t their first roll in the proverbial hay.”

“Ah, but the only information in the song is ‘She’s drunk again, Hatboy. Emphasis mine. It’s certainly not the first time she has been taken advantage of in this way. In fact, by this stage in her life it may be institutionalised victimhood.”

“But isn’t the rest of that line ‘and looking to score, emphasis mine? Playing into the male-as-trophy objectifying-misandrist mind-set?”

“More victim-blaming.”

“It only becomes victim-blaming once you rationally establish the woman as a victim. Until then, you can’t dismiss counterpoints as victim-blaming. And it seems unlikely that she only ever had sex with this guy when she was drunk. And she did actively come to his house.”

“Only because she was out of control!”

“Isn’t it sort of … sexist … to assume a woman has that little responsibility for her own actions? That little control over what – pardon the expression – she puts into her body?”

“Oh, I see. Despite your attempt to disgust me into not seeing.”


“And I suppose you would have this same entitled male shitlord opinion if the poor innocent ‘protagonist’ had been the one plying her with drinks for the very purpose of having sex with her?”

“Well, that probably would make a difference to my opinion of the case, but he wasn’t the one plying her with drinks. One of his other friends – the ones she sleeps around with, according to the song – was probably the one plying her with drinks, while the protagonist waited hopelessly at home trying to summon up the courage to escape from a toxic relationship. Plus, unless this woman was drunk all the time, presumably she was sober at some point and didn’t actively claim that she’d done something she wouldn’t have otherwise done. In fact, she says that she wants only him, to paraphrase the lyric. Unless you’re saying that this all occurs within a drunken context, too.”

“Aha! But he says in his very own words, Hatboy, ‘Now I know I should say “No”’. He knows that he’s taking advantage of an inebriated, not to mention emotionally confused and vulnerable woman, and using her for sex! He hasn’t been taught not to rape!”

“Actually, the reason he acknowledges that he should refuse her is that she’s abused their relationship at every turn and he should have the self-worth and courage to call her out on it. It’s why the song is called Self Esteem, Creepy.”

“So you might think, Hatboy, so you might think … with your entrenched views and your ingrained, blinkered attitudes. So innocent, and yet so detrimental to humanity’s chances for enlightenment.”

“Oh boy.”

“But in fact, the song title is a comment on the very pervasiveness of rape culture in our society. Indeed, the very next line, ‘I may be dumb but I’m not a dweeb’, encapsulates the entire issue of rape and male entitlement in a nutshell! He has been educated by the patriarchy to think that if he fails to rape a woman that he has the opportunity to rape, he’s some kind of pathetic nerdlinger! The song is called Self Esteem because the only way he can have self esteem is to force his will on a drugged female!”

“You really need to spend less time watching YouTube videos.”

“Trying to cut off the flow of truth will not make the issue go away! You’re nothing but a vile rape apologist!”

“In the dramatically unlikely event that I ever turned out to have raped someone, I think the very least I could do is apologise for it, yes. And, you know, also go to jail.”

“Don’t you take that flippant tone with me!”

“You really leave me little recourse.”

“And the female protagonist – or antagonist, as you called her in your own words, Hatboy, antagonist, automatically assigning her the role of villain – has internalised misogyny telling her that promiscuity and her scoring, her disposing of men in the same way men do to women, essentially putting herself into a self-destructive downward spiral of abuse, is the only way to behave and prosper in a culture so steeped in-”

“So you admit that her behaviour is negative and that women acting in this way are no better than the men who do the same thing?”

“Don’t try to manspread yourself over my points!”

“That doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means. In fact, I’m not sure I want to know what you think it means.”

“Next you’ll try telling me that it was a different time, and that those attitudes are a thing of the past.”

“Let’s not go nuts, it was 1993. We’re not exactly talking about the era of women not being allowed to vote and male homemakers being a-”

“Aren’t we, Hatboy? Aren’t we? Have those times really changed? Have they?”

“Music has certainly gone downhill since grunge happened, but I don’t think you can blame that on entitled male shitlords.”

“Can’t I, by gum? What about Courtney Love?”

“She’s a-”

“Oh, now the conspiracies and the trans-hatred come out and play!”

“I don’t think she ever trans-”

“No, wait, do you see what I did there, with ‘Come Out and Play’?”

“Yes. Yes I see.”

“A little acknowledgement, please.”

“Yes, Creepy, it was very good. But you’re bouncing all over the place like … like that attention-deficit tiger with a spring for a tail.”

“Oh, pooh.”

“Why am I always automatically Pooh?”

“Because you’re too fat to be Piglet.”

“You can be so mean when you’re crusading.”

“Sort of the point, Hatboy.”

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The Spider and the Newcomers, Part XI

Merdokk sat back, nodding understandingly.

“A very reasonable concern,” he assured the diplomats, “and not an unexpected question. And again, I fully expect you to treat my response with the suspicion and scrutiny it deserves. As it happens, though, this is a question that was answered some thousands of years ago.”

“This has happened before?” Eugon asked.

“There are very few new and unexpected developments in the field of new Corporate contacts,” Spider said. “My lawyers assure me that the case of the High Council versus Great Bokar Bloodgullet – ahem,” he smiled apologetically, “please excuse the dramatic name, I am led to believe that Bokar was something of an explorer and surveyor for a number of companies and … it was a different time,” he continued, “but the case of the High Council versus Bloodgullet ended in the ruling that a dumbler race – excuse me, again, but that is our term for … not primitives, as such, but those unaware of the existence of the larger urverse – a dumbler race cannot be held responsible if it is,” he coughed once more, “taken in by the wiles of an unscrupulous criminal element that has decided to do a little bit of exploring, colonising, general interference.”

“Our collaboration and profit in your criminal act does not count against us, but only against you?” one of the elected representatives summarised.

“Exactly,” Merdokk said. “You are in the happy position of being immune under dumbler treatment legislation that assumes you are hopelessly naïve and I am leading you astray. There are exceptional cases where newly-discovered species have turned out to have abilities enabling them to take advantage of Corporate or other non-dumbler contacts, but this is very clearly not the case here. Unless you have telepathy or other talents that you are hiding from me.”

“You mean, like magical powers?” the second elected representative asked, in what Spider took to be a sceptical tone.

“And if we did have such abilities, would we tell you?” Eugon added wittily.

Merdokk grinned in appreciation. “Quite so. But no, these cases are very rare and you are very safely within the tolerances of the High Council versus Bloodgullet precedent. Indeed, if we continue with this partnership and you profit from it, it is considered to be part of the legal consequence against me, since I am the one giving up material goods. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say any gifts I give you will be deductible from my ultimate sentence, but I do have excellent lawyers,” he spread his hands. “But I invite you, as I say, to establish the truth of this independently.”

“How might we do this?” Eugon asked, “given that anything you might say in answer still requires our faith to be placed in your information?”

“It is a difficult situation,” Merdokk acknowledged. “Since the High Council know little of your presence here, you have the opportunity to discover the facts for yourselves, and decide what steps you wish to take in revealing yourselves. However,” he went on, “the greatest problem with this situation is one, sadly, that I have brought upon you,” he shrugged helplessly, having noticed that Fliei had an analogous gesture in their own body language. “The High Council know I am involved, even though they cannot currently locate us. They will mention this to the Tanturians, and the Tanturians will know that the second group making contact is Fliei. At that stage, they will most likely take steps of their own,” he paused judiciously, and looked down at his decorative new clothes. “As far as creatures like this can take steps, of course.”

There was nervous laughter.

“So you are free to act as you please,” Spider concluded, “and I will cooperate fully. I will even arrange transportation, if any of you or the other representatives wish to travel to our capital and see for yourselves, precisely what procedures will be followed. We can arrange meetings with independent advisors and specialists, although of course there is always the possibility that any and all of these individuals will actually be on my payroll. It is, I am not denying, a delicate case. But you must be aware that, as of the moment I contacted you and the High Council contacted the Tanturians, time had begun to run out.”

The Fliei exchanged another set of unreadable looks.

“Time, pecha-Merdokk?” Eugon asked. Some of the honorifics and slang of the Fliei were giving the translators trouble, but only because appropriate Xidh phrases did not exist. It gave the conversation a charmingly stilted atmosphere, and Merdokk would have been interested to hear his own statements from the Fliei standpoint.

“Yes,” he replied sombrely. “The unpleasant truth of this matter is, it is not the disapproval of the Corporate High Council you need to worry about. It is annihilation by the Tanturians.”

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